Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Fifth-Grader's Letter Earns Visit From Unga

It's possible that Aspen Elementary fifth-grader Benjamin Diehl of Lindon may never think of class assignments in quite the same way again after some recent homework resulted in a personal surprise visit by BYU running back Harvey Unga.

Benjamin's teacher, Michelle Rotar, said that each year she assigns her class to write to a celebrity they admire as a way to teach the students how to write a letter using a business format, and how to correctly address envelopes. Benjamin, a big BYU fan, chose to write to Unga.

“The kids have written to singers, actors, actresses, other sports figures and even religious leaders,” Rotar said. “But we've never had a response quite like this before.”

In his letter, Benjamin introduced himself, then wrote: “I' am typing this because my class is supposed to write to our favorite person, so I chose you! I chose you because: you are a running back, you play for BYU, and you are just naturally awesome! I want to follow in your footsteps and become a running back just like you.”

As part of the assignment, the students were instructed to request a small item, such as an autograph or photo.

“I think that it would be great if you could send me a signed football card or a picture of you,” Benjamin wrote. “But if you can't, I understand that you are busy.”

Benjamin said he was outside during lunchtime when Rotar found him and said, “You have a visitor.”

When her student realized what was happening, Rotar said, “The smile on his face was huge. It was one of my top five teaching moments ever.”

Unga was in the hall, near the drinking fountain, Benjamin said.

When the class began, Rotar had Benjamin introduce Unga, who talked about receiving the letter, and how it made him fell “grateful, loved and appreciated.” The football player apologized for not having a picture of himself, then gave a signed pair of football gloves to Benjamin.

“It was really, really cool,” said Benjamin, recalling the incident with a measure of awe.

Rotar said that after letting others see the gift, her delighted student emptied his pencil box, placed the gloves inside and put a padlock on the box. Unga autographed a sheet of paper, and enough copies were made so that every student in the school who wanted the signature could have one.

Aspen principal Brad Davies said Unga's visit “meant a lot” to both Benjamin and the school.

“I was asked during the day, 'How many collegiate athletes would come out to a school and meet with a student who sent them a letter?'” Davies said. “My response? 'Well, at least one.' And Harvey Unga was so nice to do it.”

Coincidentally, Benjamin's dad, Nathan Diehl, an assistant civil engineer for the BYU campus, happened to encounter Unga at the university the next day, and was able to thank the football star in person for the special visit.

“I think that it's very nice that he went out of his way to go surprise someone,” said Benjamin's mother, Valarie Diehl, who said the event was also a confidence-builder for her son.

“It was a great day—especially for Ben,” Rotar said.

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